What is the meaning of "low" in this definition?

puff, … 4. Life; existence: tailors' > (low) gen.: from ca. 1880. As in never in one's puff, never …

In Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, eighth edition (1984), page 930, entry for "puff".

1. The sign > means become(s); became.
2. "gen." stands for general(ly); usual(ly),
as explained on Page xxix, Abbreviations and Signs.

This answer gives some clues, but not enough for my understanding.
Does "low" refer to the low frequency of use of the word "puff"? In this case, it is surprising that it does not appear in the abbreviations page. Unless its meaning is too obvious to be explained.


"Low" in that place is Partridge's indication of register. These are omitted from the 2006 update.

His classification by register (slang, cant, jocular, vulgar, coarse, high, low, etc.) was intensely subjective and not particularly useful. (Preface to 2006 update)

Google Books

See also:

Book Review: New Partridge Dictionary of Slang & Unconventional English

Dave Wilton, Wordorigins.org

These remarks in the Guardian's review of Paul Beale's less comprehensive 2002 overhaul are possibly worth nearing in mind:

You can amend and correct Partridge's fascinating record of forgotten roots and lost usages, as Beale did, but you cannot make it into a modern dictionary of slang. This is not just because slang is rapid and ephemeral. It is also because Partridge's wonderful book conceives of slang as either the argot of some special group (bird-watchers, say, or boys at Eton) or as language that exists outside educated discourse: "unconventional English". While the former still exists, it is difficult any longer to think of slang as Partridge's underworld of language. In fact, many vulgar words of the moment - those that we know will probably not survive for long - belong to everyone. Perhaps we even need a new term for the English that exists in speech but rarely in writing. We all need those "low" words.

Guardian review

  • It does need to be noted that "Low Dutch" and "Low German" are things, however, independent of the above. – Hot Licks Jul 29 '18 at 12:05
  • How low can you go? – Michael Harvey Jul 29 '18 at 12:13

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